Seeing Iris across the room in that poodle skirt outfit brought Jordan to another time. Perhaps the fifties. He imagined her as one of the girls who attended the USO dances. Her hair was curled toward the ceiling in layers that resembled ripples in the ocean. She tamed the front of her unruly hair with a wide headband, but it wasn’t enough to hide her spunk.
Jordan’s mind, captured by the fantasy, imagined what the soldiers back in the day must have felt like. Iris sipped on her punch and watched him through the top of her lashes. When he tried to make eye contact with her, she quickly averted her glance. The quick look away said she wanted his attention but was too shy to demand it.
Something in him lurched. It was almost as if Jordan’s heart jumped out of his body to reach out for Iris. The promise of a reward he couldn’t quite see, compelled Jordan to ask Iris for a dance.
Shannon’s voice was the rift that pulled Jordan from his dream world back to reality. “Jordan, did you hear what I said?”
Jordon spoke truthfully. “I’m sorry my mind was someplace else.”
“You’re much better than me at catching the lighting with the cell phone camera.” Shannon batted her eyelashes and quirked the corner of her mouth into that you know you’re going to do what I ask grin. “Would you mind?”
Jordan’s eyes flitted back to Iris. He had yet to say hello to her. Every time he tried to pull away to talk to her, his grandmother asked him a question that leashed him back into the conversation she was having with her friends.
Now, Shannon had taken over. It seemed like people had conspired to pull Jordan away from the one person he wanted to be with. Instead of distracting him, it sharpened Jordan’s will to get to Iris.
Jordan swallowed the frustration rising in him. Shannon’s request was easy enough to fill; then, he could spend time with Iris. He eyed the room. Rows of Tulle and holiday lights covered the ceiling. Off to the side, clusters of balloons filled with lights enhanced the indoor winterly, starry night. “The Christmas tree is a nice backdrop,” he suggested.
“Everybody does the Christmas tree picture. I want to do something original.” Shannon pouted, but the sparkle in her eyes betrayed her. Shannon was a flirt and a good one too. Jordan had to hand it to her, Shannon had always been attractive. Her youthful glow progressed into an elegant radiance.
“Your mother outdid herself.” Iris poked into the conversation.
“She lives for events like this,” Jordan agreed with Iris. He could imagine his mother was once like Iris, creative and funny, and all the things that made him want to please her.
“Maybe you can help us,” Shannon purred. “Jordan and I are trying to capture the perfect holiday picture.”
Jordan’s gut groaned at Shannon’s forwardness. He could tell by the way Iris retreated into herself she read the situation all wrong.
“It’s going to sound basic, but you could always stand in front of the balloon tree and get a piece of the curtain in the background,” Iris suggested. Shannon gave a list of reasons why she wanted to work with Iris, and Iris just proved Shannon right. Iris was a team player, even if it cost her more than she was prepared to surrender.
After Iris left the coffee shop, Jordan expressed second thoughts about convincing Iris to collaborate with them. Shannon stuck to her guns. “Trust me, Jordan. This is mutually beneficial. What if Iris didn’t have to invest so much? And for once someone lightened her load.”
Shannon narrowed her eyes as she tried to envision what Iris suggested. “There would be backlighting from the balloon. If you use the flash, it might work. Let’s try.” She took hold of Jordan’s forearm and tugged gently to extract him from the conversation.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jordan promised Iris. He wanted the dance he saw earlier in his mind.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,” Iris assured him. She tipped her head toward his grandmother and pivoted to join the conversation.
Jordan trusted Iris would be fine. His grandmother adored her as much as Jordan. Then again, she was the one Jordan talked to about Iris. Edna was the one who talked Jordan into realizing he cared for Iris more than he was willing to admit. She also was the one who patiently listened to him when he wanted to hit his head against a table. The romance movies always made it seem like best friends easily fell in love. They’d have a quiet dinner, and the subtle music played, and they’d kiss and live happily ever after.
Hoping to return to Iris quickly, Jordan snapped several pictures of Shannon. Maybe, he should just say how he felt. He could pretend the holiday atmosphere had softened his usual sarcastic approach to things. Not doing anything was proving to be harder than not knowing of Iris would respond to his change of heart. He handed the phone back to Shannon and took a couple of steps in Iris’s direction.
“You didn’t tell me I was angled awkwardly,” Shannon complained. She handed him the phone. “Let’s do it again.”
After the next round of photos, her chin was too wide. “Try taking the picture from a higher angle.”
The quick minute grew into five, and another suggestion from Shannon. “Maybe you were right. We should try the Christmas tree.” The five stretched into ten.
Jordan checked over his shoulder to see people forming a line on the dance floor. In the middle, Iris, his grandmother, and her band of friends followed along as the dance instructor taught them the steps to a line dance. Tired of his job as Shannon’s personal photographer, Jordan tried returning her camera to her. “Maybe we should go and join them.”
“Not until we have the perfect picture.” Shannon pushed the camera back in Jordan’s direction. She twisted her lips. “Should we get our coats and try to get something outside. Maybe under the town tree.”
Jordan knew better than to go under the holiday tree with Shannon. People made wishes. Not that he would. But he wouldn’t put it past Shannon to include him in one of her crazy happily ever after stories.
“How about in front of the balloon wall?” Desperate to get out of the rabbit hole Shannon had dragged him into. Jordan worked to sell his idea, “You know. Bend your knee. Make it look like you’re about to do one of those flirty back kicks.”
“Would your mom mind if we used some of her balloons? Make it look like I’m about to float away.”
Jordan didn’t know or care. “Sure.”
“Sweet!” Shannon brightened and led him away by the forearm. Twenty minutes, and a hundred pictures later, Shannon had the perfect two or three. She kissed Jordan on the cheek. “You are the best.”
“I know. Now let’s get to the dance.”
Jordan hurried through the snowflake door back into the dance hall. He almost knocked down his mother.
“Where have you two been?” his mother asked, but her eyes expressed approval at Jordan’s absence with Shannon. For years, Charlene Miller hinted, cajoled, and even tried bribing Jordan to go out with Shannon. “The mayor’s daughter is such a nice girl,” she’d plead on Shannon’s behalf.
When Jordan balked, she recited her laundry list of reasons why Jordan and Shannon would make a cute couple. Everything she mentioned didn’t matter to Jordan. He wanted a companion who laughed at his jokes, or was there to hear him vent, and celebrated his successes with him. He wanted Iris.
Shannon loved to take other people’s failures to make herself look good. She often inserted herself into his more positive moments.
As if she read his thoughts, Shannon proved Jordan’s reasons why they were excellent community development allies; but would never make it as a romantic couple. “You should see these amazing pictures of me.” Shannon sided up to Jordan’s mother and swiped through the pictures on her phone. “It took several tries. But your son found a way to share the spirit of Christmas.”
Bored with the conversation, Jordan scanned the room to find Iris. His eyes panned the tables off to the side. Jordan had to blink twice when he saw Iris on the dance floor with, of all people, the mayor of Paradise Hills.
His ordinarily quiet in a crowd, Iris was cutting a rug with one of the most influential people in Paradise Hills. This night was nothing like Jordan had planned. He hoped to pull Iris away from the dance. Maybe offer her his jacket, and they’d talk about the older couples. Iris would say something about what worked for a couple, and Jordan would find a way to show her he could be like that.
The mayor was wearing black tux pants with a tux shirt and a red vest with holiday ornaments. Jordan’s vision from earlier in the evening was there in front of his eyes. Except the mayor, not Jordan, twirled Iris into circles that made her skirt flare. His agile movements supported Iris’s bounce. The music ended, and the mayor rested his hands on his waist and inhaled his breath.
Iris clapped her delight, and a flare of jealousy surged through Jordan. He was supposed to be the one that shared a satisfied smile as a result of a well-choreographed dance. The mayor clapped for Iris and gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek. The glow on Iris’s face set off a thousand missiles in Jordan’s mind.
Logic told him he didn’t have to worry. The mayor was a happily married man who talked about Iris like she was one of his children. Jordan searched his mind. Where were all these feelings coming from? Then it hit him like a bolt of lightning. The awakening spread through his mind like the string of Iris’s Christmas lights. It was gold and warm and made him want to linger in Iris’s presence. That kiss was supposed to be for him. If it had been him kissing Iris, something of epic proportions would have happened. This time the awareness pounded through Jordan’s chest leaving an ache in its wake. He may have missed his chance because once again, Shannon interfered